Archives for category: Organ Mountains

Overview:

An array of three rabbit ears: South Rabbit Ear (on left), Middle Rabbit Ear and North Rabbit Ear.

An array of three rabbit ears in a bright blue sky: South Rabbit Ear (on left), Middle Rabbit Ear and North Rabbit Ear.

The Pine Tree Trail in Aguirre Spring Campground is a loop trail. This trip report describes a counterclockwise, 4 mile trip on a well-maintained tread. The surrounding terrain is dramatic, with the craggy Rabbit Ears perked up into the northern sky, Sugarloaf Mountain grabbing the southern view and the Organ Needles hovering directly overhead. It is not a particularly demanding hike, but it is a great stay-in-shape destination close to Las Cruces. There are fees for using the Campground. Make sure to bring the correct cash amount or a check (see below).

Driving Directions:

  • From Lohmann Drive in Las Cruces, enter I25 going north
  • In 2.5 miles, take Exit 6 for US 70 East
  • In 14.4 miles go right onto Aguirre Springs Road. On this day there was no sign naming the road, but there is a notice on US 70 letting you know that the exit for Aguirre Springs is a quarter mile ahead and at the exit itself there is a large brown sign (Park Service style) saying “Aguirre Springs Campground”.
  • In 5.0 miles stop at the self-service pay station for Aguirre Springs Campground.
  • In an additional 0.1 miles on Aguirre Springs Road (at the top of the next rise) turn left into the trailhead parking.

The fee for day use is currently $5.00 per car. For camping the fee is $7.00 per campsite. If you have the Golden Age Passport, the Interagency Senior Pass or the Interagency Pass then the day use fee is only $2.50 (for the pass holder’s car, but not for group use). If you have the Senior Pass then the charge for a campsite is just $3.50.  Cash or checks can be used, there is no change service. The Aguirre Springs link above should be up-to-date on any changes.

The Aguirre Springs Road is gated about halfway to the Campground. The exit “gate” is a tire-shredder preventing entrance, so you don’t have to worry about getting locked in. Don’t arrive too early or you may have to wait at the gate. Currently the opening time is 8:00, but check the Aguirre Springs link before setting off.

Trailhead:

04 trailhead

Pine Tree trail trailhead, with southern Organ Needles seen in distance.

The trailhead is signed, it has a trash receptacle, views of the mountains to the west and the Tularosa Basin to the east and a covered picnic area. There is no water at the trailhead. If you need water there is a host site on the Aguirre Springs Road, about four miles before the trailhead. A sign there offers potable water, but it isn’t clear how often the host site is open.

Data:

  • Starting Elevation: 5680 feet
  • Highest point: 6880 feet
  • Net Gain: 1200 feet
  • Distance: 4 miles
  • Maps: The USGS Organ Peak quadrangle is probably all you have to have, although the Organ quadrangle to the north would be handy for identifying the mountains to the north of the Campground.

Description:

03 Warning Sign

Words of wisdom from the Bureau of Land Management. (Double-clicking will enlarge any picture).

Sign-in at the trailhead. Aguirre Springs Campground is run by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the log helps justify the Campground’s upkeep. Begin ascending past the bright yellow warning sign. After a fifth of a mile you will arrive at the loop (signed) and will have the choice of either a clockwise or counterclockwise trip. I chose to go counterclockwise.

06 prickly pear in snowIMG_1981

Prickly pear cactus (and trekking pole) in about three inches of day old snow.

This portion of the trip follows close to the stream bed for Anvil Creek. There was day-old snow on the ground and enough had melted that the creek produced that rarest of desert sounds – the burbling of running water. The trail is pinned between the creek bed and a rib descending from the col south of the Rabbit Ears (Windy Gap). With no where to go but up, up you go.

Reddish bark on Ponderosa Pine bole

Reddish bark on Ponderosa Pine bole

At about three-quarters of a mile from the trailhead the trail enters a wide bowl that drains into Anvil Creek. This bowl contains a “pocket forest” that includes the promised pines. Some of these appear to be ponderosa pines since the bark is copper colored, the needles are strikingly long (about six or seven inches) and grow in bunches of three. Another pine species with thick, fissured bark and shorter needles was mixed in as well, possibly the Chihuahuan Pine. After rising high the trail makes a sharp left turn (to the south) and begins a traverse the top of Anvil bowl.

At this altitude the snow was deeper and packed down in places. I passed a couple people who looked uncomfortable with the footing – one poor soul was trying to manage two dogs that were tugging enthusiastically at the leash. It was slippery enough that the extra traction provided by heavy boots and a hiking pole was much appreciated.

Prominent, tree-topped rib parallel to the Organ Mountains skyline

Prominent, tree-topped rib parallel to the Organ Mountains skyline

After crossing Anvil Bowl the trail reaches a prominent rib at 1.6 miles and curls back, climbing in a short series of switchbacks to begin a traverse of the Sotol bowl. The top of the rib that separates the bowls is open. There are excellent views of the mountains north and south and the Tularosa Basin to the east if you scramble up onto the rib-top.

Midpoint and primitive campsite, with view to Tularosa basin

Midpoint and primitive campsite, with view to Tularosa basin

It isn’t clear if the Sotol Creek is named after the drink or the plant). It contains several running streams and where the trail crossed the stream beds the intersection was often flooded and icy. The halfway point is signed, elevation 6880 feet, about midway across the bowl. There are one or two primitive campsites nearby.

View of Sugarloaf Peak from descent.

View of Sugarloaf Peak from descent. The day certainly got cloudy.

The trail rises towards the next rib (one descending from SquareTop Peak), as if it intended to keep heading south into Indian Hollow. Instead, at 2.2 miles, near the rib top, it turns east and starts descending. Switchbacking occasionally, the trail rapidly reaches a col between the main slope and an outlying hill at 3.1 miles. At about this point the snow petered out and the footing returned to normal. At 3.9 miles, return to where you entered the loop. Turn right onto the entrance trail and return to the trailhead.

Recommendations:

South facing banks, such as the one on the left, clear of snow faster than the creek bottom or the north facing banks.

South facing banks, such as the one on the left, become clear of snow faster than the creek bottom or the north facing banks.

On the high traverse the snow was heavy enough to get packed down and slippery. Some form of traction, like Yak Traks or Microspikes, might be useful. Admittedly, I did not see anyone using them. When light snow has fallen, like today, it may be best to hike the loop counter-clockwise. In either direction you have to traverse the high terrain, descending into stream beds and then climbing up the far bank. If you go counterclockwise you’ll be making the tricky descents on banks with southern exposures, are are more likely to be free of snow.

Some folks seemed to be hiking in tennis shoes and t-shirts.  Granted, of course, that the trail is very well maintained and only four miles long. Still, it is easy to imagine midwinter circumstances where a heavy jacket and a good hat would be welcome.

View of Sugarloaf on the descent. The day sure got cloudy.

Author on the rib between the Anvil and Sotol bowls, with Sugarloaf in the background.

Hiking in cool and overcast conditions is wonderful. Where the trail wound through snowy evergreens I was reminded of the Cascades. I took along a 2 liter water bag and a liter bottle, and didn’t drink any of it. That is not typical of Organ Mountain hiking!

Outside Links:

The SummitPost site (2007) reports that the ride along Aguirre Springs Road is 6 miles rather than the 5 miles reported here. That is backed up in the guidebook “Day Hikes and Nature Walks in the Las Cruces-El Paso Area” (2004). I’m not certain who is correct.

The reviews on TripAdvisor are mostly very positive and the photos will give you a better idea of the park in warmer seasons.

OnWalkabout has an interesting post about the possible ascent into Windy Gap using Pine Tree as an approach trail. The author did not make it to the ridge top, but it sounds intriguing.

If a four mile hike seems too short, then the folks at the DailyMile running site suggest running across the mountains via Baylor Pass and then adding on Pine Tree trail. That would make for a 15.5 mile day out in the mountains. 

SouthernNewMexicoExplorer offers some great dry-season photos from the trail. In his text he mentions several alternative destinations in the Organ Mountains that sound intriguing. He mentions a prohibition against pets at Aguirre Springs, but note that the Bureau of Land Management now says that leashed pets are allowed on the trails.

Overview:

IMAG0181

View from col atop Mars Canyon. Chimney rock is the volcanic throat near middle-center. Shark’s Tooth is (I think) the high point on the left.

Quite a bit of this hike is off trail, there are climbing moves to be contemplated, the trail follows a loop and there is a genuine navigation problem. This is a trail that awards situational awareness! It nicely boxes the Achenback Canyon hike. The hike begins by ascending Mars Canyon to the north of Achenback, turns south along the ridge line that forms the eastern extremity of Achenback, and returns by way of Ladera Canyon to the south of Achenback. The navigation problem lies with finding the right place to leave Ladera and traverse Achenback so as to get back to the trailhead.

Driving Instructions:

  • From I25 take Exit 1 to University Av.
  • At the end of the ramp, turn east (toward the prominent Organ Mountains and Mt A) on University Av.
  • After 4.8 miles, turn right (south) onto Soledad Canyon Road.
  • After 0.6 miles, make a 90° left turn as Soledad Road lurches east.
  • After 3.4 more miles, turn right (south) onto Ladera Road.
  • After 0.5 miles you will pass three large dumpsters on your left. Just past the dumpsters, turn left onto a primative road towards the mountains. This year this road is rocky and gullied.
  • After 0.2 miles (if your vehicle can make it) park in the broad parking area at about 0.2 miles.

As on the trip into Achenback Canyon, my soft-suspended Camry did not make it the full 0.2 miles to the trailhead. Instead, I parked alongside the approach road (about a tenth of a mile from the trailhead).

Trailhead:

IMAG0156

View from trailhead to Organ Mountains. Mars canyon is the deeply shaded canyon above the person in the center.

The trailhead is a flat gravel area with room for at least a dozen cars. There are no amenities.

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Data

  • Map: USGS Organ Peak
  • Starting Elevation: 5140 feet
  • Highest Elevation: 6400 feet
  • Net Gain: 1400 feet (cumulative gain from bumps on ridge line is higher)
  • Distance: 5.3 miles

Hike:

If you stand in the trailhead and look towards the mountains you will see a deeply carved canyon to your left (just a little north of east). This is Mars Canyon. Reportedly, an executive at the Mars Corporation had a kid at NMSU and visited Las Cruces. They liked the area well enough to buy some property at the foot of the canyon and have opened the approach to the canyon on the condition that it be kept up. It has, there was no litter at all. Please help keep this resource open!

Approaching the mouth of the Mars Canyon

Approaching the north wall of Mars Canyon

There is a gravel road leaving from the north side of the parking lot toward the canyon. In about a quarter mile, go through a fence and approach the northern canyon wall. As you approach look up to the ridge line above the canyon and you will see a tiny, lone tree outlined against the sky. That tree is where you are heading. Enter the canyon. At this point the road becomes a trail, the trail then becomes a boot beaten tread and the tread then becomes a web of faint hopes and aspirations. There are cairns (rock piles) to help show the way, but as you go higher it becomes obvious that the best way is simply to stick to the stream bed in Mars Canyon.

Ascending Mars Canyon streambed

Ascending Mars Canyon streambed

This stream bed is mostly a forgiving place, but there is one short pitch that would require some climbing moves up to a chockstone. It can be avoided by exiting from the canyon bed to the left (looking uphill), about 20 feet before the pitch. That will take you on a steep hike to a small horn of rock, after which you can descend back into the bed above the chockstone.

In a little more than a mile from the trailhead the grade eases and you reach a col on the ridge line. You will be near that tree. To the east of the col you can see into Soledad Canyon. There is a good view of Chimney Rock and (to the northeast) the slopes of Sharks Tooth. Looking down you can see Soledad Canyon Road. From this col, make a short but steep ascent on the south side of the col.

Hikers in col above Mars Canyon

Hikers in col above Mars Canyon

Before reaching the top of this small prominence, the trail leaves the ridge and contours below the ridge top. Soon, the trail disappears completely. Continue southwest, parallel to Soledad Canyon road below and the ridge top above. In just less than half a mile the ridge line will turn a bit north of east, effectively pushing you out in to Soledad Canyon. Rise up over the ridge and drop down to the south. That will place you on the ridge that makes up the eastern most portion of Achenback Canyon.

IMAG0189

Gully carved into stone on gently inclined portion of ridge line.

At this point you get a short break while walking along a nearly flat and completely open ridge line. You can see east into the military-only section of Soledad Canyon and southwest into both Achenback and Ladera canyons. All too soon the terrain rises and, at about 2.5 miles from the trailhead reaches another ridge line prominence. Again, there is no actual trail here and our group stayed below the ridge top on the Soledad canyon side.

Descending from col above Ladera Canyon

Descending from col above Ladera Canyon

At about 2.8 miles reach a col that is crossed by an honest-to-goodness trail. A sign on the col warns that eastbound hikers are about to enter an artillery range. Head back to the car, to the west. Be warned, however, that you are entering Ladera Canyon and not Achenback. The most direct route to the car requires that you eventually pop over the small rise of land that separates these two canyons.

Hikers in arroyo in Ladera Canyon

Hikers in arroyo in Ladera Canyon

Continue downhill (Ladera means “hillside” in Spanish). The trail goes across several bushy drainages, crossing grassy flats and steeps, eventually making a sharp drop of about four feet over a bank and into an arroyo. (It appears from Google Maps that a trail resumes on the south side of the wash, however we simply kept to the bed of the wash as it tends west-south-west towards Mesilla Valley). After a half mile in the wash bottom, watch carefully for a trail coming in from the right. This will take you north, over that small height of land that divides Ladera and Archenback canyon. Near the bottom of Archenback the trail traverses an old earthen dam, presumably used at one time to hold water for livestock.

The trail stays on the northern side of the streamed, and reaches the Achenback Canyon waterfall (dry this time of year) in less than 0.4 miles. Snap some photos, and continue on the trail as it descends into the lower reaches of the canyon and back to the trailhead.

Recommendations:

Author near the top of Mars Canyon

Author near the top of Mars Canyon

This hike was arranged through the Jornada Hiking Club (a.k.a the Las Cruces Hiking Meetup). My thanks to Carol for leading us through beautiful terrain.

As always in the Organ Mountains, you will need to bring your water. In November my 3L supply was ample. There was one small source of open water, but it was inundated with insect life. It would be easy to miss and you probably wouldn’t want to use it unless you really had no alternatives. We had a mild day, but I suspect that any sort of breeze could make a wintertime hike uncomfortably chilly on those ridge lines.

This would be a great place to bring someone to practice navigation skills.  The ascent up Mars canyon is steep and long enough to be challenging, but not out of reach even for fairly young hikers. Like the hike straight up into Achenback, this makes a great training hike.

Overview:

2013-06-15 Bishops Cap 033 east side (portrait)It’s June – the days are hot and the demands on your time are intense.  What’s a hiker to do? Try this short and easy scramble. The trail raises just 1000 feet in a little over two miles. You can explore a little of the country near to Las Cruces and still get back in time to set up the barbecue.

Driving Directions:

  • Enter I25 heading south for El Paso from University Drive in Las Cruces
  • After 2.3 miles merge onto I-10 East (signed for El Paso).
  • After 8.8 (more) miles take exit 151 off of I10.
  • After 0.1 miles, at the end of the exit ramp, turn left onto unsigned paved road (heading east, towards the Organ Mts). This will take you over the highway and to a stop sign for the frontage road, Las Alturas Street. Go straight across the intersection. The road heads northeast, turns to gravel after  1.4 miles, and runs along the west and north boundaries of the Dona Ana County Liquid Waste Disposal Facility. At 3.3 miles the road goes under a power line. Just past this there is an intersection. A wide and well-tended road comes in from the left  (north), while the  road you’ve been driving on continues straight  (ENE) on a narrower and less carefully graded roadbed. Continue straight on the narrow road. In “Day Hikes and Nature Walks in the Las Cruces – El Paso Area” Magee says that the road can become rougher at this point and high clearance vehicles might be needed, but as of this date the family sedan managed the road easily.
  • After 4.5 miles on the unsigned road, turn right and park at the trailhead. The trailhead is at the road’s closest approach to the cluster of hills that make up the Bishops Cap outlier.

Trailhead:

The mighty Camry, parked at trailhead on the north end of the approach ridge

The mighty Camry, parked at trailhead on the north end of the approach ridge

The trailhead is a gravel parking area next to a wash and immediately north of the main ridgeline for Bishops Cap/Pyramid Peak. It is made up of a short, U-shaped turn-out on the right side of the unnamed approach road. There are no amenities.

Data

  • Starting Elevation: 4400 feet
  • Ending Elevation:  5419
  • Net Elevation:  1020 feet
  • Distance:  2.2 miles one way
  • Map: USGS Bishop Cap, NM

Hike:

2013-06-15 Bishops Cap 009 morning sunlight on peak (better)

Sunrise on Bishops Peak from the jeep track at the start of the hike.

The terrain is open and in some places the tread is not obvious.  The general plan is to gain the main ridgeline (running north-south) and follow it to the summits of both Pyramid Peak and Bishops Cap.  Many other approaches are also possible.

2013-06-15 Bishops Cap 011 Pyramid shadow on basin floor

Shadow from the false summit, taken from the col immediately above the wash used to approach the ridge

From the trailhead, follow a jeep trail into the adjacent wash and downstream (away from the mountain) for a few feet until the road pulls up over the left bank of the wash. The road initially veers away from hills but a quarter mile from the trailhead it swings to the south and forks. Take the left hand fork back towards a small draw at the north end of the ridge.  The road enters the draw and begins to ascend on a small rib on the right side (south).  Shortly after, at 0.6 miles, it becomes a single-tread trail and, in less than 50 more yards, terminates in a col on the rib. There are good views out to the Mesilla Valley.

Cliffband above col on approach to ridge. Go right (south) to the first break in the cliffs.

Cliffband above col on approach to ridge. Go right (south) to the first break in the cliffs.

Look east to the major ridge above your head and see how the direct approach is guarded by a long cliff. Head south across country  on a climbing traverse. In 0.7  miles from the col enter a gully that has broken an opening into the cliff bands. Ascend the gully to the top of the major ridge.  If you look down on the lower reaches of this gully you will see that it cuts through successive layers of rocks. This succession of layers make it the look of an open-air amphitheater since the rock layers resemble a tier of curved benches. This can be useful – on return you will want to know where to descend from this long ridge.

2013-06-15 Bishops Cap 020 rock ledges on back side of first false summit (good)

View of numerous short cliff bands on the south side of the false summit. The bulk of the rock hopping is done over these small bands.

Follow the ridge line south. At 0.9 miles arrive at a false summit with excellent views of the broad valley that separates the Organ Mountains from the Bishop’s Cap outlier. The south side of the false summit consists of many small bands of rock, easily to down-climb but with no obvious tread.  The last of the rock-hopping is marked by a pair of cairns in the col below the false summit.

View south towards Franklin Mountains

View south towards Franklin Mountains

Ascend along the now gentle ridge line, rambling over several minor prominences until attaining the summit of Pyramid Peak at 1.5 miles.  From here there are views south to the Franklin Mountains, east to the other ridgelines of the Bishops Peak outlier, and north along the front face of the Organs. However the biggest attraction from Pyramid Peak is the “wedding cake” structure of Bishops Cap, south east from the summit.

2013-06-15 Bishops Cap 035 good view of swale and cliffs

The “swale” mentioned in the post is the opening in the middle cliff band that lies directly beneath the summit block

Descend southeast to the col below Bishops Cap at 2.0 miles. The mid-mountain cliff bands on Bishops Cap are broken by a broad swale. Ascend this steep swale, guarding against the rocks’ tendency to slide out from under your feet. As you near the top of the broken cliff bands, exit the swale to your right, onto a level shelf immediately above the right-hand cliff face. Above you will be another steep rock cliff, potentially a puzzle as to how to proceed. Scout the shelf to the west (towards Mesilla valley) and you will find a clear boot beaten trail that solves the puzzle. This tread brings you into a break in the cliff bands and rises to a steep grassy incline below the summit block.  At the base of the summit block the trail turns back east for just a few feet, to where a gully has been carved into the summit. Scamper up the gully. Footing in the gully is a little better to the right side, once you’ve entered.  Arrive at the summit in 2.2 miles. Descend the way you came.

Recommendations.

For folks in Las Cruces this is a great morning-away-from-home. It is more dramatic than Achenbach Canyon and not as time consuming as the Baylor Pass traverse over to Aguirre Springs. This particular Saturday-in-June eventually became quite hot, but by arriving at the trailhead at 6:00 it was possible to complete the hike under (mostly) cool temperatures. I saw no snakes, but have seen several online reviews suggesting that the terrain can rattle.

Author on Bishops Cap, Organ Mountains in background

Author on Bishops Cap, Organ Mountains in background

The first 0.6 miles on the jeep track described here is not terribly entertaining.  You can reduce the mileage and create a  wilder hiking environment by hiking the jeep track to the point where it begins turning west, away from the mountains (about 30 feet after leaving the wash). Look for a faint trail heading straight south towards the peak.  This faint trail will connect you to a very well established trail, go right. This trail rises slightly over the north end of the ridge, initially curving a little to the west then returning back east to enter the draw and reconnect with the jeep track.  The jeep track looked to be drivable for folks with high clearance vehicles and willing to negotiate entry and exit from the wash.

There are potential driving problems on the unsigned approach road. At the junction just past the power lines – where the approach road narrows – there was a bank of sand across the mouth of the narrowed road. Fortunately, other people in high clearance vehicles had packed down this sand enough that I could get past it. However, if you arrive just after a road grader has been by, you might not be as lucky. It could be handy to have a shovel in your car, if only to ensure you can escape once the hike is finished.

Overview

North, Middle and South Rabbit Ears from bed of Rabbit Ear Canyon North, Middle and South Rabbit Ear spires viewed from bed of Rabbit Ear Canyon

This report describes a short but surprisingly strenuous scramble in the Organ Mountains that reaches the summit of a spire called South Rabbit Ear. You depart the trailhead on an old mining road, traverse below the Organs on a well established trail, and then ascend into Rabbit Ear Canyon in the canyon bed. On ascent, I left the canyon bed and climbed up the steep gully that descends from the col between Middle Rabbit Ear and South Rabbit Ear. The gully was heavily vegetated and offered no obvious tread – an unpleasant and painfully slow brand of hiking. Movement becomes easier in the narrow cleft between Middle Rabbit Ear and South Rabbit Ear. The route from the col to the summit has stretches of class 3 climbing so you will want to be somewhat comfortable on rock. This writeup offers some suggestions on how to find a game trail that traverses from the base of the South Rabbit Ear summit block across to the canyon bed. The game trail gives you an easier path above the worst of the brush.

EDIT 2019 – the years go by and game trails disappear. See Barry’s description in the comments for an update!

Driving Directions

  • In Las Cruces, take Exit 6 from I-25 onto US 70 East (towards Alamogordo)
  • After 10.2 miles take the exit for NASA Road/Baylor Canyon. There isn’t much distance to the next right hand turn so get into the right hand lane as quickly as traffic permits.
  • After 0.2 miles, go right onto Baylor Canyon Drive
  • After 3.6 miles find the trailhead and park the car off to the side of the road.
Camry at the trailhead, just beyond a cattle guard in Baylor Canyon Drive Camry at the trailhead, just beyond a cattle guard in Baylor Canyon Drive

Baylor Canyon Drive continues, straight as an arrow, right past the unmarked trailhead.  Watch your odometer! The trailhead is just past a cattle guard, I think it is the 5th cattle guard you cross on Baylor Canyon Drive, but I’m not 100% certain. Look for the following trailhead clues. First, there should be a mining road heading up towards the mountains on the left side of the road, just past the cattle guard. Second, the mining road has a cattle guard of it’s own near its intersection with Baylor Canyon Drive.  Finally, on the opposite side of the road is another dirt road (in rough condition) heading down the mesa towards Las Cruces.

If you have a high clearance vehicle you can drive a ways on the mining road and save yourself some dull road side hiking. On this trip I opted to park beside Baylor Canyon Drive.

Trailhead

2013-6-01 70 Camry at trailheadThere are no amenities at this trailhead.

 

 

 

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Data

  • Starting elevation: 4950 feet
  • Ending Elevation: 8130 feet
  • Net Gain: 3180 feet
  • Distance: 3 miles one way.
  • Map: USGS Organ Peak

Hike

Mining gear (next to mine) below the front face of the Rabbit Ears Plateau Mining gear (next to mine) below the front face of the Rabbit Ears Plateau

Ascend the mining road.  In 0.9 miles you pass a stone ruin and in 1.4 miles you come to a Y in road. Stay left.  At 1.5 miles the road ends in long pile of tailings. The mine is above the road to your right if you wish to explore. Head directly over the tailings from the road to pick up the summit trail.

At 1.6 miles you will come to a trail junction marked by a cairn. Go left, traversing the front of the Organ Mountains and rising somewhat towards the mouth of Rabbit Ear Canyon. At 1.9 miles enter canyon bed.  Be sure to note this spot so you get correct exit on return.

North (front) Rabbit Ear and Middle Rabbit Ear (sharp spire) North (front) Rabbit Ear and Middle Rabbit Ear (sharp spire)

From the canyon mouth the bed initially rises to the east. Soon the North Rabbit Ear spire comes into view. At about 2.0 miles from the trailhead the canyon turns sharply south and begins rising more steeply. Both the North and the Middle Rabbit Ears are in sight. You will see a prominent “bump” of rock in the middle of the canyon (rising about 100 feet above the canyon bed). Keep to the right of the bump.  At about 2.6 miles you will pass the upper end of the bump at about 7000 feet of elevation.  At this point you should be able to see all three of the spires that make up the Rabbit Ears (see photo at top of the post).

2013-06-01 26 wall of Middle Rabbit Ear and South Rabbit Ear Gully leading up to col between Middle Rabbit Ear (cliff on left) and South Rabbit Ear (spire on right).

At 7200 feet, about 2.7 miles from the trailhead, you will find a gully formed by water draining from all three Rabbit Ears. After scouting around for a while I headed up this gully. I do not recommend this approach. The yucca, cholla cactus, and thorn bushes were pretty dense, so I ascended to a rib immediately above the gully and continued thrashing upward. Between the vegetation and the steep gravel surface my progress upward was awfully slow. Looking up and to my left I could see the entrance to the slot between the Middle Rabbit Ear and the South Rabbit Ear. A prominent boulder at the base of the South Rabbit Ear stood out by virtue of its dense covering of green lichen.  This “Green Gateway” rock – about 2.8 miles from the trailhead – was my target. Once there, I looked back and saw a tread/deer-path that traverses from high in the canyon to the base of South Rabbit Ear. On the return trip I followed that tread and it was much easier.

Lower part of ascent onto the summit block, class 3 rock. Lower part of ascent onto the summit block, class 3 rock.

Follow the slot between the steep and smooth walls of Middle and South Rabbit Ears, allowing yourself to wonder how anything in terrain like this might be construed as class 3.  At the top of the col you get narrow views of the Tularosa Basin and, directly below you, a look at the Aguirre Springs Campground.  If you look back the way you came you can see over the west wall of Rabbit Ear Canyon to Mesilla Valley.  Go back about 20 feet to get to the start of the climb up the summit block. This is hands-on-the-rock terrain and remains so for the short distance to the summit at 3.0 miles. There are only two or three places where the  moves are not obvious. For example, as you rise out of the col, about 80 feet up, there is a point where you have to stretch to get over a deep crack in the rock. On ascent the move is  straightforward, but pay attention to where the handholds are. On the descent the task of crossing this crack is a bit more taxing.

2013-06-01 40 Middle Rabbit Ear from summit Middle Rabbit Ear from summit of South Rabbit Ear. North Tularosa Basin is to the right. North Mesilla Valley is to the left.

From the summit you have tremendous views all around. The Middle Rabbit Ear is quite imposing.  Past it you can see north into a portion of White Sands National Monument. To the east lies the enormous swath of the Tularosa basin and the Sacramento Mountains.  Directly south lies the lower and upper Organ Needles. West, there is the Mesilla Valley. Other climbers have erected a summit cairn, but I did not see a summit register.

2013-6-01 57 view back toward rocky nub along primative trail Smooth grey rock protruding just above the vegetation. This view is looking uphill, the same as if you were ascending and trying to find the easiest path to the summit block.

Descend on the same route. At the Green Gateway you can avoid the worst bushes by traversing the line where the rock of the summit block gives way to shrubs. At the lowest point on the summit block, pick up the previously mentioned game trail as it contours towards a small rise of smooth rock that stands slightly higher than the surrounding vegetation (about 150 feet away).  From that rock, descend in open sandy terrain about 20 to 30 feet and pick up the trail as it continues to traverse high in the canyon. In another 300 feet the trail reaches a prominent white boulder (with a concave face )that is shaded by a juniper tree. At this point you’ve crossed above all the vexatious vegetation and are placed above the open terrain of the canyon bed.

2013-6-01 61 pine below a tongue of granite (departure) On the right is a pine tree growing just below a raised tongue of granite. This marks the point where you would start a rising traverse towards the low edge of the summit block (the block is just visible on the left). Click to enlarge.
2013-6-01 60 rock rib and (upper right) juniper and hollow boulder View across the granite slab (foreground) to the low granite ridge (rising from left to right) that diminishes back into the canyon floor at the upper right. To find the deer track, ascend towards the green juniper next to the white boulder in the upper right of the picture.

For future travel, note that this key location in the canyon bed is marked by a large pine tree immediately downhill of (and protected by) a tongue of granite.  See the top picture to the right. This pine appears to be quite close to the upper end of the canyon – the col between South Rabbit Ear and the Rabbit Ear Plateau.  If you have climbed to this spot then look to your left – there should be a wide slab of unvegetated granite that ends against a low granite wall. (Lower picture on right).  This wall peters out above your head, ending with that juniper shaded boulder.  If you find this boulder you’ve found a route to the Green Gateway.

Follow the canyon bed back towards the trail from the mine.  As you get into the space between the west canyon wall and the “bump” of rock I tried going to the left (close to the canyon wall). It was not a successful experiment. Stay near the bump.

Recommendations

Summit pose Summit pose

I took only three liters of water to hike for a day in the June sunshine. That was a mistake. I’d take two more liters in future travel. It might be an even better idea to reserve the hike for the cooler months.

Hiking back down that mining road is something of a chore. Someone with a high clearance vehicle could chop off a half-mile or so of the descent. For soft-suspended cars, such as the mighty Camry, I don’t recommend going up the mining road at all. It quickly becomes a boulder strewn assault on your oil pan.

This is not a hike for your acrophobic friends. Nor is it a good place to bring first time hikers. Take this scramble with well conditioned hiking companions who have some experience with rock climbs. The views are outstanding.

2013-05-12 30 Organ Peak summit blockIntroduction

This is a great, near-to-Las-Cruces hike that has a slightly overstated reputation for difficulty. The gain is only 3200 feet and the altitude come in fairly steady increments. The tread takes you from the Dripping Springs Natural Area, ascends Fillmore Canyon, brings you through a pretty upland forest and leaves you on a summit with fantastic views all around. There are no technical moves that have any exposure. It is woefully under-celebrated. I met no other hikers on a beautiful Sunday in mid May.

Driving Directions

  • Take Exit 1 on I25.  At the end of the ramp, turn east (towards Mt A and the Organ Mountains) on University Avenue.
  • Stay on University as it changes it’s name to Dripping Springs Road, turns to dirt at 4.7 miles and reacquires a paved surface at 8.0 miles (just past the junction with Baylor Canyon Drive).
  • After 10.0 miles, park in the upper parking lot at Dripping Springs Natural Area.

2013-05-12 63 sunset view of Dripping SpringsNote: the upper parking lot is where I parked, but that is most likely a mistake. There is a paved loop below the the upper parking lot. Look for it on the north side of the Dripping Springs Road (to your left as you drive in). This loop seems to have parking spaces. If so, then parking on that lower loop would let you shave off a long excursion into the terrain above the Visitor’s Center. My guess is that you would  save about a mile on the round trip that way.

Trailhead

2013-05-12 64 car and Needles at trailhead

Camry in front of the Visitor’s Center at the Dripping Springs Natural Area

The Visitor’s Center at the upper parking lot has many amenities including flush toilets and running water. The Visitor’s Center is manned and offers basic maps to casual users. The Dripping Springs Natural Area is set up as day-use only. Currently, the park opens at 8:00 a.m. and closes it’s gates at 7:00 p.m., but that changes with the seasons. See the schedule here.  Slow movers (like myself) will want to be at the gates when they open.

Data

  • Starting elevation: 5640 feet
  • Ending elevation: 8860 feet
  • Net Gain: 3220 feet
  • Distance: 5.4 miles, one way
  • Maps: USGS Organ Peak

Hike

2013-05-12 62 sign for Fillmore and Needles

Sign at branch trail into Fillmore Canyon

On this excursion I took the trail leading uphill from the upper parking lot and followed it southeast in the direction of Ice Canyon. About a quarter of a mile above the parking lot a major trail comes in from the left. Take that trail north towards tailings from what seems to be an old mine on the north wall of the canyon. Continue following the trail as it turns back to the northwest to arrive on the northern side of the rocky ridge behind the Visitors Center.   There, at a little over one mile from the trailhead, come to a junction signed for Fillmore Canyon. Head up Fillmore.

The trail stays on the south side of the canyon initially, rising steeply in places (as it encounters ribs coming down from the canyon rim) and descending a little from time to time.  After about 2.2 miles it crosses the canyon bed and begins weaving below the arroyos leading up to Organ Needle, which towers massively above and to the north. At about 3.5 miles the path passes close to a sheer cliff on the southern canyon wall and begins making a slow left-hand turn until the trail is facing directly north.

2013-05-12 43 view upcanyon from Narrows

View from inside The Narrows to the rim of Fillmore Canyon

At this point the trail enters a brief defile known as The Narrows. It is a 10 to 20 foot wide cut through gray sedimentary rock formed in crumbling layers . Although barely 100 feet in length, The Narrows is a shady place that supports the growth of broad leaf trees (maples?), a hint of the pleasant greenery to come. As you come out of the canyon, watch for the Organ Needle summit that peers down on you from its immense height.

2013-05-12 39 bee tree

Bee tree (the insects were densest near the lowest limb jutting leftward from the trunk).

Above The Narrows the canyon makes an abrupt right hand turn to go east for a few hundred feet followed by a slower ascending left hand bend as it begins heading northeast in forested terrain. Watch for the bee tree to the right of the trail. I did not notice it in the morning, but the buzzing was daunting on return in the afternoon. Still in the forest, you will soon encounter a few sheets of badly abused aluminum and the elevator assembly from the tail of an aircraft. They are directly on the trail. One hopes that the pilot was able to bail out safely.

Canyon bottom ledge that marks departure point for ascending a rib to the ridge.

Canyon-bottom ledge that marks departure point for ascending a rib to the ridge. Note hiking pole on left for scale.

In less than a quarter mile from the elevator (about 4.5 miles from the trailhead) encounter a broad solid ledge made of whitish rock, three or four feet high, that spans the bottom of the canyon. Look up and to your right for cairns, indicating that this is where you leave the canyon. There is a boot trail that climbs steeply to gain the top of a long rib. The trail follows this rib-top to gain the ridge that leads to Organ Peak. Boots have beaten a multitude of treads on this rib. All lead to the summit.

Edit: finding the departure point above the ledge can be a little tricky. Paul H provides a very useful update (from 2017) in the comments below. (Thanks Paul!)

2013-05-12 10 east from summit to cloud dappled Tularosa

View above the headwaters of Ruckers Canyon to the Tularosa Basin

The rib broadens and steepens as it reaches the summit ridge, but eventually gentles to a wide col. To your left is an astronomical observatory that appears abandoned. Before you is Rucker’s Canyon leading down to the Tularosa Basin. On your right is the tread that leads to the summit. The trail now becomes a bit sketchy. However, some terrifically civil minded individuals have been up there with knives and stem cutters to open a way. My thanks to those folks! Stay close to the top of the ridge and look for shrub stumps.

2013-05-12 04 Organ Needle with cloudy summit

Organ Needle and north Mesilla Valley from near summit

The summit pulls into view at 5.5 miles.  There is a cairn protecting a grey plastic box with the summit register inside.  (You may have to shift aside some of the top rocks on the cairn). Summit views extend to the Mesilla Valley to the west, Soledad Canyon to the south, the cloud-dappled Tularosa Basin on the east, and the imposing Organ Needle to the north. Very much worth the visit!

You can return to the col below the observatory and take the rib down from there, just as on the ascent. However, there seems to be several trails in the park-like terrain below the summit ridge. It might be fun to tray an alternative route back to the forested part of the trail.

Recommendations

I had a great day, but the notes inside the summit register suggest that Organ Peak can be a cold and windy place. You probably want to keep some warm gear in your pack. There was no water at any point along the trail, despite the fact that there had been heavy rainfall in Las Cruces two days previously. The gully bottoms where filled with loose and dusty sands, as if none of that water reached this portion of the mountains. Bring plenty!  I had three liters, which was enough for a mild May day.

2013-05-12 27 me and Organ NeedleThis is a great distance for a get-in-shape workout, the green forest is a welcome change in pace from most Organ Mountains hiking, and the views are spectacular. It will be a routine part of my calendar! The only three things I would change is (1) my choice of parking spots and (2) remembering, next time, to bring along an actual camera rather than relying on my cell phone and (3) it looks like roaming through the park-like terrain near the summit ridge would be fun.

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 07 lush growth at entry to canyonOverview

This is a mixed trip report.  The first part describes a modest trail hike that starts on the mesa leading up from Mesilla Valley to the Organ Mountains, rises to Baylor Pass, then descends towards the Tularosa Basin on the east side of the range. It is a pleasant walk on good trails, and as such one of the best training hikes that I know of in the Las Cruces area.  The second half is a scramble from Baylor Pass up to Baylor Peak.  It follows climber’s treads that are steeper and often difficult to discern. It’s more of a challenge, but a good one for anyone looking to hone navigational skills.

This trip report will probably show up on WordPress out of sequence – my hike occurred in mid February but I’ve postponed writing it up until late April. It isn’t obvious to me how to make things appear on WordPress in order of occurrence rather than order of record.

As always, use a little extra skepticism with reports and maps that have been drawn up long after the fact!

Driving Directions

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 02 trailhead sign

A well-signed trailhead on Baylor Canyon Road

  • Take I-25 to Exit #6.
  • Follow signs on exit ramp to US 70 East.  (Note: if you are starting in Las Cruces then just follow Main Street towards the north-east, it turns into US 70 after crossing I-25). You should be heading towards the spires of the Organ Mountains.
  • After 10.3 miles take the NASA Rd exit, which immediately merges onto Nasa Rd going east.
  • After 0.2 miles, turn right onto Baylor Canyon Road, heading due south.
  • Follow Baylor Canyon Rd for 1.9 miles and turn left into the signed Baylor Pass trailhead.

Trailhead

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 33 back at trailhead

Camry in it’s native environment (well tended parking lots), with Baylor Peak and Baylor Pass behind.

The trailhead is a manicured gravel parking area just off of Baylor Canyon Road, and well signed.

There are no amenities at the trailhead.

A bright yellow sign warns hikers to leave the rattlesnakes alone.  It seems like good advice.

Data

  • Hike to Aguirre Springs: 5.5 miles one way
  • Hike from Pass to Baylor Summit: 1.2 miles one way
  • Trailhead: 4880 feet
  • Baylor Pass: 6380 feet
  • Baylor Peak: 7650 feet
  • USGS 7.5 minute map: Organ, NM
  • Gain from trailhead to peak: 2770 feet

(Note: don’t order the USGS map labeled Organ Peak! That is the map for the region just to the south).

Hike

The trail leaps straight towards the mountains out of the trailhead parking lot. The opening that is Baylor Pass is very evident above your head.  The ascent across the mesa is very moderate and remains moderate in the canyon on this nicely engineered path.  Reportedly, this is the only maintained trail that goes across the Organ Mountains. Some of the gullies retain a hint of green, but most of the canyon reflected severe drought conditions this year.

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 32 good view of Baylor Pk, but washed out

Sere landscape leading up to Baylor Summit (bump furthest to the left)

As you ascend take a look at the series of rises and benches that constitutes Baylor Peak on the north (left) side of the pass. Each bench looks an awful lot like a summit from below, so be warned about keeping expectations under control.

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 12 distant view of Rabbit Ears coming down back side of pass

Rabbit Ears from just below Baylor Pass.

After 2.5 miles you come to the pass and this trip’s first views of Tularosa Basin.  To the right (south) are the mountains above Aguirre Spring, including the Rabbit Ears and the tooth-like projection of Sugarloaf. To the left you might be able to see a corner of White Sands National monument.  Have a snack and a drink of water, there is a considerable length of descent below you.

Down you go! The trail traverses beneath the Rabbit Ears and then begins throwing in a few switchbacks as it works towards the Basin floor – although it never gets completely to the floor. Periodically it crosses some steep and remarkably deep gullies that in very wet conditions might pose a hazard. No matter! Down you go until the grade begins to mellow and you reach the Aguirre Springs Road at a covered corral.  The trail is popular and on descent I was passed by several groups of lycra-clad distance runners. Those folks are in good shape.

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 16 Aguirre Springs now 5 bucks

New(ish) fees for Aguirre Springs.

At the road you can turn right and follow the pavement to the pay station meant for day-users but not hikers. For those who are considering a drive to Aguirre Springs, note that the fee has risen to $5.00.  (The fee is listed as $3.00 in some older guides). Pit toilets are available. There did not seem to be any water, which seemed a bit surprising.

Return on the same route. At Baylor Pass, ask yourself if you are up for another mile or more of fairly steep ascent. If so, then follow the very clear path until is fades away about 300 feet further along. From that point contour up and a little to your left, looking for a steep swale with a prominent rock outcropping arising well above your head.  A fairly good tread begins again above the outcrop. The terrain is wide open and all rising boot paths and game trails are going to bring you higher. Eventually you will hit a long ridge that is the last of the benches. The summit is perhaps 150 feet higher but that terrain is a bit steeper and more brush-clogged than the terrain adjacent to Baylor Pass. Have a look and some water.

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 27 view of Dona Ana Mts from Baylor summit

Dona Ana Mountains in the middle distance.

I thought it worth bush whacking up that narrow ridge. The view down to the east is vertiginous. The Dona Ana Mountains, Robledo Mountains, Picacho Peak and Tortugas Mountain are all in sharp relief. To the north are the San Andreas peaks and if the weather is good you might even see Sierra Blanca gleam in the distance.  The best views are to the south, however.  The perspectives on the Rabbit Ears and Sugarloaf are very unusual. There were numerous birds taking advantage of the thermals to climb high overhead.

 

Recommendations

2013-02-16 Baylor Pass 28 me on summit

From Baylor Peak. The Rabbit Ears are to the right of me and Sugarloaf gleams in the background to the left of me.

I hiked this in February under the mildest of conditions. I was terrifically happy to have a full gallon of water with me, especially given the lack of water at Aguirre. The descent from Baylor was complicated by piles of plate-sized shards of rock, very flat, that tended to skitter out under foot. The hiking pole was very handy for keeping balanced.  The fly population was unusually intense. It may be that there is not other water source for these insects on the entire mountain other than hikers. Next time my pack will contain some fly spray.

This trail offers a very good way to introduced an uncertain hiker to the joys of the New Mexico high country. And as mentioned, it’s an accessible place for getting in a few miles on a training weekend.